Our Reading Lives

When Book Lover Marries Minimalist

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At least once every two weeks, my husband will look toward the dining area of our home and sigh audibly. I don’t even need to turn to know what that desolate huff is about, as I’m all too familiar with it. He’s assessing our bookshelf—nay, my bookshelf—and wondering how in heaven’s name he can convince me to whittle my collection down. His minimalist nature can’t handle all the “clutter.”

It usually goes something like this:

Husband: “Can you try to get rid of a few books from here…?”

Me: “No. I already did a little while ago. ”

“Oh, okay. But, what about these? You haven’t read any of them.”

“That’s my TBR shelf! Do not touch.”

“Umm, okay. What about these up here?”

“Get away from those fantasy series, they’re sets!”

“Fine, it’s just giving me a headache, seeing all this clutter.”

For shame! My books are not cluttered at all! They have designated placement and arrangement in my shelf system, arbitrary though it may seem to the naked eye. But you see, my poor husband is a minimalist at heart and fairly successful in practice. His approach to life likely careened downhill once we got married, and he was consumed by all the stuff I hold on to—especially those books.

Some days we have fought long and hard on whether my collection needs to lose a little weight or if it’s lovable just the way it is. Other days we reach a tepid or strained consensus on them. The fact is, there are plenty of reasons to keep them, but just as many for paring it down. Do I really need UK and American copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or should I say Philosopher’s Stone)? Yes, I do, actually. But I certainly don’t need to hold on to books I have only halfheartedly enjoyed, for example.

Some of my husband’s habits have worn off on me as a result. He has this unofficial rule of “one thing in, another thing out,” based on the general capacity of our home. That’s easy enough for him—the man is a master of cycling out clothing, electronics, athletic supplies. I’m more skilled at fitting books into all the nooks and crannies of my shelves, so I have a tough time with this. Nevertheless, I have come to adopt his mentality too, with clothes, gadgets, and books…some of the time. The other times, I hold on to the hope that my book collecting can have a positive effect on him as well. And I think it has—he has certainly conceded some points to me.

Reasons to Hold on to Your Collection of Books

First and foremost, I have reiterated the studies that have shown that keeping a substantial library at home benefits children. With a 1-year-old sprinting through development stages, it helps to know that my books will contribute to his educational prowess, his desire for learning, and pursuit of knowledge. His intellectual curiosity and his love of reading in general expands with each book he lays his eyes on.

On that note, keeping a library that includes a plentiful TBR collection has its benefits for us too. It serves as a reminder that no matter how many books we imbibe, there is always more to learn. Such an “antilibrary”—the collection of stories and facts that represent all that we do not know—encourages and humbles the mind in a healthy balance.

And thirdly, I’m hoping I’ll come across the book that will convert my husband into an occasional, if not avid, reader. I know it’s out there, and if I can continue to expose him to new experiences through literature, we are one step closer to finding it.

This doesn’t mean I will allow my collection to grow uncontrollably. As much as I’d love the library Jorge Luis Borges imagines, infinite in all directions, that is neither realistic nor healthy. Having just gone through my college storage boxes in my parents’ home and either tossing or donating most of the fodder within, I wholeheartedly appreciate the mantra of clearing out and minimizing for peace of mind.

Reasons to Embrace Minimalism With Your Books

When we moved from our previous home to our current, I had set aside a box of books then to give away. Although moving a book to the donation pile was excruciating, the moment I did it felt like a leash untied. I was free from one small burden and had no desire to pull the book back into the fold. That kind of lightness of being creates room for creativity and joy.

Furthermore, with a little one watching our every move, I like to think he’ll gain some lessons in humility and responsibility every time we cull our belongings, books included. I don’t want him to believe that unbridled attachment to materials is fully acceptable. He should learn that we shouldn’t be so arrogant to keep hoarding the things we like just because we can. If he sees me donate some of my books, his books, our books, he may eventually understand that it is for the betterment of all parties involved.

On that note, I ultimately get the opportunity to share my favorites and not-so-favorites to those with more need for them, whether they be immigrant children in a detention center, local school libraries, or a prison system, for example. I occasionally go through my dustier tomes, especially books that I know I can retrieve any time from the library. Print books appeal to me more, but I won’t deny the efficiency and usefulness of ebooks either. I can feed the need to minimize, but also build up a fortress of material in ghostly electronic format. (Shhh! Don’t tell the husband!)

Borges said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” I agree with that sentiment, but my kind of library at this moment isn’t one with infinite hallways and levels. It’s one with infinite movement of books. My husband would probably say “an empty library,” but he knows that’s a lost cause.